Speculation Abounds Concerning Potential New Milwaukee Arena

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High-level supporters and skeptics of a new basketball arena being talked about for Milwaukee tried to score points at a forum yesterday.

The Bradley Center is only about 25 years old, but the business groups and others getting behind the concept of a new playground for the Milwaukee Bucks say the center is not set up with enough ways to draw money from people’s wallets.

A new arena might cost at least $400 million. One of the biggest backers is Tim Sheehy of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce: “I think this is about how we get this done, not if we get it done. Because I think this is a statement Milwaukee should make as it moves forward.”

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Attorney Cory Nettles was a state commerce secretary under Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. Nettles backs a new arena, but says the funding mechanism should also pay for other community improvements.

“I think our community all across is looking for a big, bold audacious vision that we can rally around. I – and I think a lot of other people – are frustrated at the lack of that vision.”

But Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist is urging caution. He says a lot of community dollars invested in pro sports leak away, including salaries to basketball players who live elsewhere.

“If 50 percent of the revenue that gets spent at a basketball arena goes to the players, and they’re spending the lion’s share of their income in other cities, then that’s the leakage.”

A business task force in Milwaukee will start taking a closer look at how to pay for a new arena. Milwaukee Bucks owner and former Senator Herb Kohl has said he will make a substantial investment in a new building, but wants a community discussion to play out first.

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